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Planning money for Towson Circulator included in Baltimore County budget

Planning money for Towson Circulator included in Baltimore County budget
The Charm City Circulator's Purple line bus. Planning money in Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.'s 2020 budget could move a plan forward to put a similar program in Towson. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun File)

After County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. presented his fiscal year 2020 budget to the Baltimore County Council last week, Towson’s representative on the council said there were parts he liked, and parts he didn't.

“I think the budget is a mixed bag for Towson,” Councilman David Marks said April 15 after Olszewski’s speech in the council chambers in Towson.

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One highlight: planning money for a Towson Circulator pilot program. A project Marks has long sought, the circulator would bring a regular free bus route in and out of downtown Towson.

“Our county has not historically focused on the importance of integrated transportation planning,” Olszewski said in his speech, adding that the Towson Circulator is one of the “key, innovative investments” in that area.

Spokesman T.J. Smith said the budget includes $100,000 in planning money for the circulator. Marks said if operating funds are allocated next year, the pilot could be in place by 2021.

Under Marks’ plan, the Towson Circulator would be a free bus system with two routes. One east-west route would run from The Shops at Kenilworth through downtown to Towson Place. The other would run north-south from the Drumcastle Government Center to Towson Town Center.

The program would require between $1.4 million and $2 million in initial capital costs to purchase vehicles, according to a Maryland Transit Administration report. Annual operating costs would be between $2.4 million and $3.4 million, assuming buses ran every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, with no Sunday service.

Though he was happy to see the circulator included, one key disappointment was the lack of funds for new buildings at Towson and Dulaney high schools, Marks said.

The budget included $15 million in planning money for a new Lansdowne High School. But Olszewski said the failure of a construction funding bill in the state legislature will slow plans for other schools.

“I am profoundly disappointed that Lansdowne planning leapfrogged over Towson and Dulaney,” Marks said, adding that he thinks Towson should have been higher on the priority list because of its severe projected overcrowding. By 2028, the high school is projected to have 768 more students than its state-rated capacity.

Marks said one thing that might be a “tough sell” among his constituents is Olszewski’s proposal to raise income taxes.

But he praised Olszewski’s decision to levy fees on developers. “They are long overdue,” Marks said.

Olszewski’s budget must be approved by the County Council. Council chairman Tom Quirk said a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 30 and the tentative date to adopt the budget is May 23.

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